President Trump has become the first president in American history to be impeached twice. But being impeached is not the same as being convicted and kicked out of office or barred from ever holding it again.
Here’s how we got here, what’s happening and what could happen next.
What are the consequences of this second impeachment?
The consequences are that he’ll go down in history as being the first U.S. president to be impeached twice. If the Senate convicted him before he leaves office on Jan. 20, he would be removed, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that the chamber won’t take up the matter before Trump leaves office. The Senate will hold a trial at some point, though, and if it convicted him, the Senate could take another vote to bar him from ever holding office again.
McConnell: "Given the rules, procedures, and Senate precedents that govern presidential impeachment trials, there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week."— Craig Caplan (@CraigCaplan) January 13, 2021
Why is this happening?
Impeaching Trump in his final days in office was not on Congress’s to-do list. But then Jan. 6 happened.
Congress convened under tense circumstances, after Trump’s months-long quest to undermine the 2020 presidential election, contest his loss, and interfere in the counting of electoral votes and confirming that Joe Biden will be the next president.
Congress’s role in who is president is largely a formality. But scores of Republican lawmakers, including a majority of GOP House members, planned to use an 1880s law governing the process to object to seating electors from swing states Trump lost. That’s despite the fact that all states met the legal requirements for Congress and despite the fact that none of those challenges could get the votes to succeed.
As they got started, Trump was on the Ellipse addressing supporters whom he had invited to Washington to “be there, will be wild,” and whom he urged that day to “fight like hell” to try to overturn his loss.
As debate about the first GOP challenge got underway, hundreds of those supporters stormed the Capitol, overwhelming Capitol Police and forcing lawmakers and staff members to flee the chambers. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died as a result of the riot.
Shaken members of Congress returned hours later and confirmed Biden’s win.
Democrats and some Republicans started calling for Trump’s removal from office immediately. On the eve of the House’s impeachment vote Wednesday, several top House Republicans said they supported impeaching him. In the end, ten House Republicans voted to impeach him, compared to none the first time.
“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, said in a statement, adding, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Why not the 25th Amendment, censure or other consequences?
There were a few options besides impeachment to get Trump out before he has to leave by noon on Jan. 20. He could resign. Or Vice President Pence and half of the Cabinet could vote to remove him based on a section of the 25th Amendment that allows them to declare him unfit to serve. Pence responded that he doesn’t think removing Trump now would be “in the best interest of our Nation or consistent with our Constitution.”
House Democrats called on Pence to remove the president this way before they moved to impeach Trump, but he said he didn’t think it was in the best interest of the nation.
Some constitutional law experts argue that Congress could use a lesser-known provision in the 14th Amendment to ban Trump from office, by voting that he “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” and thus can’t hold office again. They say that would take only a majority vote, although this could be open to court challenges.
That leaves impeachment. House Democrats, more than 300 historians and constitutional law experts — and even a handful of Republicans — have argued that Trump poses a danger the longer he stays in office after encouraging the riot.
"He must go,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi D-Calif.) said as the House began debate. “He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”
What happens next in the process?
From here the impeachment article goes to the Senate for a trial on whether to convict or acquit the president. The Senate is in the process of changing hands, from a narrow Republican majority to a narrow Democratic majority.
The timing of the House vote, less than a week before Biden is to be sworn in, means the Senate trial will probably happen under a Democratic-controlled Senate. Democrats would get to outline how the trial would work.
But it could require the Senate to stop all business for a few days, including confirming Biden’s Cabinet. Biden asked the Senate if it could split the day in two, confirming his nominees and holding a trial. It’s unclear whether the Senate can do that.
The consequences for Trump are unclear. A president can probably be convicted after leaving office, but to convict Trump requires support of two-thirds of the Senate, more than the Democratic majority. Democrats would need 17 Senate Republicans to join them.. So far, only four Republican senators have expressed openness to impeachment or getting Trump out of office — Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) and McConnell. McConnell hasn’t decided how he’d vote, but he could bring along enough other Republicans for a conviction. That would make Trump the first president in American history to be convicted by the Senate after being impeached by the House.
A conviction is necessary to hold a second, arguably more consequential vote to bar Trump from ever running for office again, Chafetz said. That action only takes a majority vote.
What the new impeachment article says
The article the House voted on is short but makes three main points, mainly that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” because:
1. He falsely claimed he won the election: “Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump addressed a crowd of his political supporters nearby. There, he reiterated false claims that ‘we won this election, and we won it by a landslide.’ ”
2. He encouraged the riot: “He willfully made statements that encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — imminent lawless action at the Capitol. Incited by President Trump, a mob unlawfully breached the Capitol, injured law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress and the Vice President, interfered with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the election results, and engaged in violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.”
3. He’d been putting actions to his words to try to overturn his loss: The article mentions a recent call Trump held with Georgia's secretary of state urging him to “find” just enough votes to overturn Biden's win there.
What Republicans are saying about impeachment
Few, if any, Republican lawmakers are defending Trump’s actions. But few are publicly acknowledging his role in inciting the violent mob and trying to undermine a presidential election.
Most House Republicans have been lining up behind the argument that impeachment would be too divisive for the country, while trying not to acknowledge Trump’s role in the rhetoric that led to the storming of the Capitol. They have offered alternatives such as censure, a much weaker option.
On Wednesday, House Republicans mostly rested their objections on process.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) opposed impeachment but said: “The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
The majority of Senate Republicans are silent about what they think should happen to Trump. Some argue that impeachment is a bad idea.
“I think letting the president stew in his own juices is probably the right way to go here,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), a Trump ally who has also broken off his support for Trump after the riot, told The Post on Monday after meeting with the president.
Trump, who used his now-defunct Twitter account to defend himself throughout his first impeachment trial, on Tuesday morning called the new impeachment effort “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics.”
What happened in the last impeachment
After months of debate within the Democratic Party about whether to impeach Trump for his efforts to block a government Russia investigation, in the fall of 2019, Democrats moved forward with impeaching Trump for pressuring the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden. They went slowly, starting with an impeachment investigation where they called in about a dozen witnesses, before having some dramatically testify, often in defiance of Trump’s orders not to.
By December 2019, Trump was impeached by the Democratic House in a party-line vote for two articles: abuse of power and obstructing Congress’s inquiry. In January, the Republican-controlled Senate held a relatively quick trial without calling new witnesses and acquitted Trump. Only one Republican senator, Romney, voted to convict Trump on one of the articles.
What questions do you have about impeachment?
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